Thursday, 27 October 2011

New Brisbane Airport Link toll road may include loyalty programme

I've written about two Brisbane toll roads that have not entirely been successful, from the point of view of their owners.  The Go Between Bridge downtown and the Clem 7 bypass tunnel.  The bankrupt Clem 7 connects with the soon to be completed Airport Link motorway.

Airport Link route connects with Clem 7 at bottom of this map
Airport Link is 6.7km long, connecting downtown Brisbane and the Clem 7 tunnel (which carries traffic from the south bypassing the city) to the East-West Arterial Road which leads to Brisbane International Airport.  It includes a parallel busway and 15km of tunnelling (twin tunnels for the motorway) at a cost of A$4.8 billion (US$5 billion).   That makes it Australia's most expensive road project to date and is touted as Australia's largest infrastructure project.

It is expected to halve travel times on the journeys to the airport by bypassing 18 traffic signal controlled intersections.  It is to be tolled using a DSRC based 5.8 GHz tag and beacon system, with a sophisticated ANPR system as backup, and is due to open in mid 2012.  The concessionaire is called BrisConnections, which has a 45 year concession to finance, build and operate the road.  BrisConnections has had a rocky history as its price collapsed during construction of the road, with institutional investors abandoning the company and retail investors buying stock that is now virtually worthless.  One of the key issues having being conflicting traffic forecasts (an issue for Clem 7).  The Environmental Impact Statement claims the road will attract 95,000 vehicles a day in 2012, the original Product Disclosure Statement, for investors, claimed 193,000.  I suspect both will be too optimistic and the real figure will be closer to 50,000.

The company has barely avoided bankruptcy and is listed on the Australian Stock Exchange.  Tolls for cars are expected to be between A$3.56 and A$4.75 (US$3.70-US$4.94) with higher tolls for trucks and buses.  There may also be higher charges at peak times, indicating a form of congestion pricing.

The Brisbane Courier Mail reports that Brisconnections is considering a loyalty programme to encourage regular use of the road.  Comparisons have been made to the mobile phone market, and so it is being treated as a fully commercial operation.  There isn't concern about congestion, except that the Airport Link will relieve congestion on the free route.   It makes commercial sense to encourage regular users, because they will be contribute a higher proportion of costs of the road, of course the issue will be if Brisbane seeks to introduce congestion charging at a later date as to how that all fits in.

I think it is a good move.  Tolling will be undertaken for a range of purposes, and in this fully commercial context there is no reason why a concessionaire shouldn't take steps to encourage a shift from untolled roads to its road, especially as it still means the infrastructure costs are recovered and helps to offset the distortion that always exists when tolls exist on one road, and not on the parallel route.


  1. Like all toll-roads in year #8 of peak oil, this project is doomed. The original PDS had debt growing up to $7.7 bn. The debt crisis was triggered by peak oil so at one stage in this endgame, toll-way operators won't be able to roll over debt. Then take reduced traffic volumes and the business model will collapse.

    In google, type crudeoilpeak dot info and you will get a lot of statistical information and graphs about what is really going on

    For example, Australia's crude oil is depleted by 83%

  2. There are a range of views on the future energy sources for road transport, and I don't believe that if conventional petroleum is unaffordable that there will be a lack of viable alternatives. That doesn't mean there would not be an interregnum of diminished demand as the fleet transitioned, but I do not subscribe to the "oil will run out, so road transport demand will permanently plummet" thesis.